Cape Town – The Stormers finally played to their true potential as they defeated the hitherto high-riding Highlanders 29-28 in a Super Rugby clash at Newlands.
The New Zealanders arrived at Newlands in a rich vein of form which had seen them recording back-to-back wins over the Rebels, Bulls and Sharks in successive weeks. But the Stormers' overall attacking flair saw them score four tries in a match for the first time this season, and with it their first 2014 bonus-point win.
The Highlanders also managed four tries but in the end a penalty made the difference as the Stormers squeezed out a one-point win.
Before the kick-off, the Stormers surrendered some backline experience when New Zealand-born Sailosi Tagicakibau was declared unfit and rookie Kobus van Wyk replaced him on the left wing. Cheslin Kolbe, back from a long injury lay-off, was moved on to the bench.
The smallish Newlands crowd was treated to a thrilling start to the match as two tries, one at either end, were scored in the opening seven minutes.
Stormers' prop Frans Malherbe steamrollered his way over the whitewash in the second minute and Highlanders' scrumhalf Aaron Smith gathered a chip ahead for a seventh-minute touchdown.
Flyhalves Kurt Coleman (Stormers) and Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders) added the conversions (7-7).
In ensuing play, the Stormers tried to run the ball from every quarter, even from their own 22-metre area. They looked good and penetrative with ball in hand but poor option-taking and occasional handling errors presented the Highlanders with counter-attack opportunities. However, the Stormers scrambled well to keep their defences in check.
The Stormers' enterprising efforts over a 20-minute period should have seen them double their tally but try-scoring efforts by fullback Jaco Taute and Van Wyk were thwarted at the corner flag. The enterprise did eventually take its toll when flank Schalk Burger flicked a 'bind' pass out just five metres from the Highlanders' tryline and Malherbe was on hand to snatch the ball and score his side's second converted try in the 29th minute (14-7).
Six minutes ahead of the halftime break, the Stormers snatched a third try with right wing Damian de Allende diving over in the corner for an unconverted try to give the home side a handsome 19-7 lead.
Four minutes later, Highlanders' left wing Trent Renata pounced on a kick ahead, which ricocheted off a Stormers player, to score a converted try far out and round-off the first-half scoring in the match (19-14).
The Stormers started the second half in much the same vein as in the first half and just nine minutes later they were rewarded with a converted try by replacement prop Oli Kebble (on briefly for Malherbe) in the 48th minute. Coleman added the conversion (26-14).
The 12-point deficit seemed to bring out the best in the New Zealand visitors and they responded with a two-try burst over a hectic six-minute passage of play when the Stormers were playing with a man short after hooker Scarra Ntubeni was yellow-carded. The touchdowns by fullback Ben Smith and centre Malakai Fekitoa were both converted by Sopoaga and the visitors surged ahead 28-26.
The Highlanders' substitute hook Brayden Mitchell was next to be yellow-carded and the Stormers' substitute flyhalf, Peter Grant, goaled the resultant 65th-minute penalty to regain the lead for the home side, much to the delight of the 20,000 crowd (29-28).
In the final 15 minutes of the match, both sides tried to open up play but defence triumphed over attack as threatening scoring movements were stifled effectively, mostly between the two 22-metre lines.
An offside infringement by the Highlanders gave the Stormers a chance to goal a penalty two minutes ahead of the final whistle but they chose to kick for touch and run down the clock from the resultant line-out driving maul.
Scorers: Stormers: Tries: Frans Malherbe (2), Damian de Allende, Oli Kebble. Conversions: Kurt Coleman (3). Penalty: Peter Grant.
Highlanders: Tries: Aaron Smith, Trent Renata, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa.
Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2), Renata (2). – Sapa